The Archbishop of Westminster has welcomed the decision that churches can reopen for public worship from 4 July.
Boris Johnson announced the move amid a raft of measures relaxing the lockdown earlier today, including the reopening also of pubs, cinemas and restaurants, and a reduction of the two-metre rule to just one metre. The changes apply to England only.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, said: “This is welcome news for members of all religions in England. I thank all who have worked hard to bring this about, not least my fellow religious leaders.
“As Catholics we now look forward to being able to celebrate Mass together again from 4 July. We have waited with patience and longing for this moment, understanding the importance of protecting the health of people in our society. Now we are full of anticipation that we will be able again to take part together in the Eucharist, which lies at the centre of our faith.”
He emphasised that the Church's bishops and priests understand the importance of abiding by safety standards to prevent a second wave of Covid-19. Singing will be banned for the time being and the churches will have to follow precise safety instructions, such as a limit of 30 people at weddings.
“It is important that we continue to abide by the guidance, given by the Government, on appropriate social distancing and the other measures to avoid all unnecessary risk. Our own detailed guidance will be distributed around dioceses and parishes so everyone can be confident that they may come to Mass securely and understand the part they are to play in protecting each other from any remaining risk of infection.”
He acknowledged some of the effects the lockdown has had on Catholic communities.
“The past few months have been a time of fashioning new patterns of prayer, new ways of exploring and enriching our faith and vigorous ways of reaching out to those in need. We can build on these, forgetting nothing of the graces we have been given. Yet now, with the experience of opening our churches for individual prayer already gained, this return to the more normal patterns of worship will be of great importance to all Catholics.
“This time of our ‘Eucharistic fast’ has made our hearts grow in longing for that moment when we can come together and receive again the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. That moment is now very near and for that we thank God.”
For the Church of England, the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said: “I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement today that we will soon be able to begin to meet and worship together in our church buildings again.”
She said the last three months had been an extraordinary time – the first period without public worship and the sacraments in England in more than 800 years.
“There will be real joy as we begin to come together again – if even at a physical distance – but I also know that many will be understandably cautious at this news.
“We will not be returning to normality overnight. This is the next step on a journey.”